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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Symphonic Poems, Vol. 4

No. 9: Hungaria, S103, (1848-54) [21:52]
No. 8: Héroïde funèbre (Heldenklage), S102 (1848-50, rev.1854) [23:19]
No. 2: Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse, S112, No.3 (1866) [13:05]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Michael Halász
rec. 30 May-1 June 2005, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. DDD
NAXOS 8.557847 [58:16]

This is volume 4 of the Naxos project to record all the symphonic poems of Franz Liszt. Fourteen of them have now been recorded and although we are not told as much this must be the final volume. The first three, also conducted by Halász, are available on Naxos 8.550487; 8.553355 and 8.557846.

Liszt was the composer primarily responsible for creating the genre of the symphonic poem. His single-movement orchestral works were written primarily in the 1840s and 1850s. In the symphonic poem the score is programmatic, developing material that is pictorial, literary or even based on an idea that suggests an emotion or scene in musical terms.
Liszt had first made sketches for his symphonic poem Hungaria in 1848 which was the year that the Hungarians rebelled against their Habsburg rulers. Some of the material in the score was taken from the earlier Heroic March in Hungarian Style for piano from 1840. The score Hungaria was completed in 1854 and first heard in 1856 in Pest with Liszt conducting.

Since the July revolution of 1830 in France, Liszt had been sketching out a Revolution Symphony; a score that was never completed. Material from the first movement was utilised and revised by Liszt using the title Héroïde funèbre. Described by biographer Humphrey Searle as, “a fine one-movement funeral march of vast proportions …” the score was first performed in Breslau in 1857.
Liszt had written the symphonic poem Tasso, lamento e trionfo in 1849 as a prelude to Goethe’s play Tasso. The score Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse (The Funeral Triumph of Tasso) was composed by Liszt in 1866 to serve as an epilogue to Tasso, lamento e trionfo. Liszt utilised Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse to serve as the final part to his Trois Odes Funèbres. The ‘funeral ode’ was dedicated to his Prussian friend Leopold Damrosch, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Society concerts, where the score was first performed in 1877.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are in tremendous form here. Halasz’s readings have an impressive breadth and an intelligent sense of scale, tautly holding together the often inspiring orchestral playing. The pictorialism of these interpretations is strikingly graphic. Hungaria has containing a strong sense of nationalistic fervour with convincingly menacing, warlike episodes that evoke the horrors and carnage of the 1848-49 Hungarian uprisings. This patriotic struggle would have greatly affected Liszt at the time. I love the way that Halász, who I understand is himself Hungarian-born, brings the score home to a triumphantly optimistic conclusion.
In the darkly sombre Héroïde funèbre, maestro Halász emphasises the sinister and often terrifyingly character of this lengthy and dramatic funereal score. I was especially impressed with the superbly performed introduction to the Héroïde funèbre that convincingly sets the spine-chilling scene with terrifying, martial drum rolls and braying trombones.         
What struck me as remarkable about this assured reading of Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse was the richness of texture and the precision of ensemble of his New Zealand players of a standard approaching what one would expect from a Berlin or Vienna Orchestra. One cannot help but admire the way Halász gauges the yearning and brooding sections at 2:19-7:06 and 9:29-12:11 with an impressive dignity and unshakable restraint.
I am not able to recommend any suitable versions of Liszt’s Symphonic Poems from my own collection. However, a recording likely to be encountered is the five disc set of Franz Liszt: Works for Orchestra performed by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur on EMI Classics 5745212. Another alternative that has been recommended to me is the five disc set of Liszt’s complete Symphonic Poems from the Budapest Symphony Orchestra under Arpad Joó on Hungaroton HCD12677-81 and also on Brilliant Classics.
The sonics are crisp and cleanly recorded, and Keith Anderson’s booklet notes are to the usual high standard. This Naxos series has gone from strength to strength. 
Michael Cookson   




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